- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The freshman senator who proposed moving the Capitol to Nebraska during last year’s campaign says now that he’s gotten to Washington, he’s more convinced than ever that the Senate is broken and both parties are to blame.

From GOP politicians who use Congress to embolden their own personal political ambitions to Democrats who changed the Senate rules two years ago in a fit of anger over the slow confirmation process, Sen. Ben Sasse said neither side has clean hands, and it’s led to poor floor debates and power slipping from Capitol Hill to the White House, defying the founders’ vision for government.

“The people despise us all,” the Nebraska Republican said in delivering his maiden speech on the floor.

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Such speeches are rights of passage for new senators, but Mr. Sasse put his off for months, saying he wanted to listen and study the Senate before reaching any conclusions. And he delivered a striking speech, offering an analysis of his own conclusions about his colleagues after talking with them for the last 10 months.

Among the problems are constant fund-raising for elections, the ubiquity of cameras, and the increasing acceptance of viewing every issue through a partisan lens.

And he rejected the easy explanation that the country is more polarized, saying political divisions have been much deeper before. Instead, he blamed a lack of real debate, chastising colleagues for distorting and reducing opponents’ arguments to straw men rather than competing in honest conversations.

“We do not need fewer conviction politicians around here; we need more of them,” he said. “We do not need more compromising of principles; we need clearer articulation and understanding of competing principles — so that we can actually make things work better, not merely paper over the vision deficit.”

More than a third of his colleagues turned out to hear his speech — a striking number that included at least 10 Democrats.

Mr. Sasse, a college president and historian by training, said he’s spent his first months in office sitting down to “interview” many of the other senators to try to get a sense for how they saw the Senate.

“It’s weird, because one-on-one, when the cameras are off, hardly anyone here really believes that senators from the other party are evilly motivated — or bribed — or stupid,” he said. “There is actually a great deal of human affection around here — but again, that’s in private, when the cameras aren’t on.”

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